Object name

Date made

20th century

Place made


20th-century mola representing a bird, perhaps a kingfisher, catching a fish with its long beak.

Content description

A 20th-century mola, a two-dimensional, colourful textile, made by a member of the indigenous Guna (also known as Kuna) people of Panama and western Colombia. The mola is made using hand-stitched (mostly whip-stitched) appliqué and reverse appliqué in orange, red, and a riot of other bright coloured cotton on a black and brown ground made of two pieces of cotton, with details in blanket stitch and chain stitch. This mola has the central motif of a bird, perhaps a kingfisher, swooping down to catch a fish with its beak. The images of the animals are connected by a shared piece of red cotton and are surrounded by coloured triangular shapes which fill the negative space. Both fish and birds are common motifs in molas. This mola does not seem to depict a specific narrative.

The Guna are an indigenous group, the majority of whom live in three politically autonomous reservations in Panama, in several small villages in Colombia, and in various cities across the region. Most of the Guna population live in Guna Yala, also known as the San Blas Islands, in northeast Panama. The Guna people are known for their molas, which form part of traditional Guna women’s clothing and which are made by women and girls. Molas are held in museum collections around the world and are a popular souvenir from Panama and its environs. They were historically and still are created in pairs to create the front and back panels of a woman's blouse.

Some molas have specific purposes, worn for housework, as nightgowns, for going out, or for special occasions. Molas feature stylised figures, animals, plants, mythical imagery, scenes of life, and abstract geometric patterns. Some mola designs are inspired by modern graphics and visual culture, with renditions of cultural figures such as Felix the Cat and Batman as well as names of sports teams and logos.


width: 61cm
height: 50cm





Credit line

Gift of Keith Thomas, April 2017.

Catalogue number


Other numbers

RSN 2220
© Royal School of Needlework